How I Quit the Supermarket

How I Quit the Supermarket

For a long time I was uneasy with shopping at the supermarket. I wanted to shop sustainably from independent producers, support local businesses, and buy ethically, yet quitting the supermarket seemed so… drastic. I wanted to divorce my supermarket. Split up with my supermarket. “That’s it! I’m leaving you!” Storm out of the door, dramatically, never to return. However much I might have wanted to, something held me back. Actually taking action seemed too overwhelming.

Yet I realised at the start of this year that I don’t really shop at supermarkets any more. As a couple, for every $100 we spend on food, we probably spend $1 in the supermarket. In the space of two years, I’ve gone from shopping there multiple times a week to maybe once a month. What happened?

I didn’t divorce my supermarket. There were no fireworks, no drama, no tears and regret. Things simply changed. We drifted apart. We had nothing in common. It was a gradual shift, so subtle that I didn’t really notice it, until one day I realised that we just weren’t doing things together any more, and I was free.

Here’s how I quit the supermarket.

The first thing was starting to buy my fruit and vegetables elsewhere. Supermarkets in Western Australia have very expensive fruit and vegetables, limited choice and almost no organic produce. I tried a few things – shopping at the local fruit and veg stores (cheaper but most produce was imported from China), before switching to Farmers Markets (more expensive but locally produced) and signing up for a weekly organic vegetable box delivery.

The second thing I did was to stop buying bread from the supermarket (it’s filled with additives, preservatives and palm oil) and start buying bread from a proper bakery. Nothing beats freshly baked bread! I also learned how to make my own sourdough, both to save money and so I could enjoy fresh bread when I needed it, rather than just on Saturdays.

Thirdly, I started shopping at bulk stores for grains, pulses, spices, nuts, and seeds. The prices here are far cheaper than the supermarkets and the choice is better. I have at least three very good stores close to me, and the more I look, the more I find.

Next, I gave up plastic. This meant not buying anything in plastic packaging. This was quite a big shift, and saw my supermarket consumption drop considerably. I found a local supplier of milk and yoghurt at the Farmers Market with products packaged in glass (and they collect empties for re-use). I also learned that is really simple to make yoghurt at home.

I discovered that it is possible to buy laundry and dishwashing liquid in bulk from the bulk bin stores by bringing my own containers. Rather than buy shampoo, conditioner and shower gel from the supermarket, I found a local artisan producer who used natural ingredients so I could avoid the chemicals found in regular brands. I now make my own deodorant and toothpaste.

You don’t need to buy expensive cleaning products from the supermarket either. Green cleaning solutions such as using bicarbonate of soda and vinegar work just as well, and are far safer than a lot of products for sale in the supermarket.

The next thing to go was switching from the supermarket service counters when buying fish, cheese and deli items. I found a local fishmongers; although the price is higher, the quality is infinitely better and the selection is amazing. We buy olives and cheese from a local deli rather than the supermarket.

From this point I was only stopping in at the local supermarket for odd bits and pieces, and the challenge now is to find alternative sources for these few things. We had a win recently with finding an alternative source for toilet paper, which was one of the last remaining supermarket staples.

Important note – this was not a quick process! It has taken me two years to get from where I was to where I am now! I started slowly and just chipped away until there was almost nothing left.

So…what is left now? There are a few things that I still go to the supermarket to buy. One is tins of coconut milk. I still can’t find an organic brand that I like, so for now, I sticking with the supermarket brand. It’s not a regular purchase though; I’ve probably bought 4 tins from the supermarket so far this year. I also bought a jar of black tahini recently as I’d read about it, wanted to try it and hadn’t seen it stocked anywhere else. Eventually I’ll find alternatives for these, too. There’s no point worrying about what is still left to achieve; it is far better to celebrate successes, and I’m pretty happy that I made it this far!

Have you thought about quitting the supermarket? Have you given it a go or do you find the whole idea of taking action a little overwhelming? Maybe you are you a pro with loads of tips to share? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

27 Responses to How I Quit the Supermarket

  1. :) we don’t use the major chains anymore. we use a slightly smaller foodworks shop for our general shopping now. veg from the markets or local fruit and veg shop. some things we still get from the super markets occasionally are specific occasional tins, and some veg that we can just last minute grab at foodworks (due to them obsessing in wrapping things in plastic :P )

    • That’s great! Doesn’t it feel fantastic, supporting smaller businesses (and multiple businesses) rather than these mega-businesses?! I like that you’ve reversed the tradition, so you treat the supermarket as the corner store for top-ups, and the smaller store as your main shop of choice : )

  2. I am so glad that you have shared this information. I have been mulling over the idea of decreasing my dependency on supermarkets for a while now and this post has really helped. One of the major factors for me is committing to eating less. Not that we eat a lot. It’s more about not eating food that we don’t really need and making more things myself. I’m so glad you told me about bulk cleaning products. It kills me every time I throw away an empty shampoo bottle. Which bulk bin store do you use? Thanks!

    • I use Manna in Fremantle for laundry liquid and dishwashing liquid. Planet Ark in Fremantle also stock lots of cleaning products including bulk white vinegar! There’s a health food store in Subiaco by the train station (I forget the name) that sells cleaning products in bulk and also shampoo and maybe other toiletries. I get my toiletries from Earth Products; Marie (the owner) has a showroom in Aveley which is open on Wednesdays but also goes to lots of the markets and fairs at weekends. She lets me refill containers and bottles; I use old glass milk bottles for shampoo and conditioner, and I buy soap in a 2kg block! (I split this with someone) That way I only need to go there once every few months. She’s also just stated selling laundry powder but I’m yet to try it. I hope that helps!

  3. Lindsay,first congratulations, that is quite an accomplishment. I was lucky enough this year to not have to purchase ANY food from the stores from November until March after stocking up a freezer from my garden and the farmers’ market, but lately I have had to replace some of my vegetables that I ran low on. I now have a better idea how much food I will need to store to make it from one season to the next when the gardens are producing, but for my first year with a freezer I’m content with how well I did. I did stock up on staples from a bulk food store which is so much cheaper than the grocery store. I do that once or twice a year.

    • Thanks! It is such a good feeling to be free! I am lucky that I have a very good independent grocer close to my house. When we move it will become harder… but I don’t think it’s a reversible process. I think once you quit, that’s it. There’s no going back!

      • I agree. Once I began shopping at the farmers’ market and experienced the way people communicate with each other (sellers and buyers), and the lovely location the market is held which is an old barn the idea of shopping at the grocery store where you don’t talk to a person until usually the check out, if you don’t use the self-checkout along with the artificial lighting, etc just wasn’t appealing.

  4. I’m afraid I still enjoy “food tourism” at the health food stores and Whole Foods, but during the summer I much prefer the local market. There’s a local coffee shop nearby that roasts beans, so I’m shifting to buying my coffee there. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Food tourism : ) Would you count Whole Foods as a supermarket? I’ve been to their London store and they used to have one in Bristol (where I lived) but they’re not super well known in England. I’d like to hear your thoughts : ) From what I know, they do a lot of organics and loose produce, but they also stock products with quite high food miles, and lots of disposable (“bio”) packaging. Is that correct? Anything else you’d add?

  5. Great post Lindsay :)

    I’ve been shopping locally for a long time now and when I do go to the grocery store, I stick with the small mom and pop style stores which are in my neighborhood. Recently however, I found an organic farm that delivers close to my home. I will be buying my meats from them and considering how convenient it is, the cost is relatively inexpensive. I’ll do a post on my experience soon after.

    I’m fortunate that I live in an urban area and have lots of choice to shop locally. I couldn’t imagine living in a suburb and having to shop at big box stores.

    Take care Lindsay and thanks again for the share :)

    All the best.

    Lyle

    • Thanks Lyle! I think you’re right, it’s definitely important to factor in the convenience. Before I got a veg box, I’d get up early, catch the train, walk 20 mins from the station to get to the Farmers Market, buy all my stuff and then have to lug it home again on my poor little shoulders. Having a box delivered saves time, hassle, lets me sleep in if I want and saves my arms! Definitely worth it : )

      I agree with you, living in an urban area is great. I love the choice I have. I couldn’t (wouldn’t?) live anywhere where my only alternative was those types of stores!

  6. Great post. I think that your point about it taking a while is a really good one. Things don’t happen overnight. I’m doing ok with cutting out supermarkets but do end up in them every so often. A new local fruit & veg shop has just opened near us though which is helping to make a big difference. I love that they give their leftover food straight to the local homeless shelter at the end of every day so there is no food waste. That and the sign ‘we believe everyone should be able to have access to affordable fruit and vegetables’ that hangs over their door…

    • Thanks Liz! That new fruit and veg shop sounds awesome : ) I love it when new businesses open that just ‘get’ all these issues that we all talk about. I hope it’s getting a lot of support from the locals. At least it’s getting support from you!

  7. Hi Lindsay, this is a great subject and I’m so glad you shared your process of giving up the majors when shopping for food. We are promoting this ourselves at Biome Eco Stores and find your thoughts very helpful. I wonder if you would mind us sharing your post? I also just want to suggest that you can make your own coconut milk from shredded coconut (if you can find it locally) you just blend it and add water, then strain through cheesecloth. If you don’t strain it, then it’s coconut cream (which I prefer). I hope this is helpful. Please let me know if we can share your post with our followers.
    Cheers,
    Shionagh

    • Hi Shionagh, I would love you to share my post, thank you so much for your kind offer! The more people shopping local and sustainable the better! Thanks for your coconut milk suggestion too; a few people have also suggested this on my facebook page, and I have to confess (coughs awkwardly) that I even suggested this to someone else myself last Plastic Free July, although I’ve never actually got round to trying it. That was nearly a year ago. You’re all making me feel guilty, I’d best get onto it!

  8. I love the idea of getting rid of the supermarkets; however, I do struggle with how to actually do that. I live in Utah so am limited in when I can get fresh local veggies and fruit. I had a goal last year to get 75% of my veg from my garden, but that was so difficult. I’ll have to plan better, but I just don’t know what to do in the winter when the closest fresh veggies come from California or Chile (depending on what you are looking for)! Recently purchased Dr. Bronner’s castile soap for my kiddos (who suffer from eczema) so that will help eliminate the shampoo purchases for them (currently still in shock with how many bottles of crap I have sitting around that I used to slather all over my precious babies)! We also just came back from a 4 day trip to a national park. We only ate at a restaurant once–the experience showed me that if we can plan ahead on exactly what we were going to eat we will waste virtually nothing and spend very little on food. Great blog (and awesome commenters) this helps to get the ball rolling.

    • Wow, it sounds like you’re doing great! Having a garden and being able to grow your own veg is awesome – and hopefully each year you’ll be able to do a little better as you learn what works and what doesn’t.

      When I lived in the UK I didn’t realise how lucky we are in terms of close fresh vegetables; I would think food from outside the UK was too many food miles! Now I live in Perth it is completely different – even the other side of the country is a few hours flight. Changed my perspective somewhat!

      I’ve never used the castille soap but I see it recommended often and there is a place nearby where I can get it in bulk, so at some point I’ll try it. I gave up plastic two years ago and I still have a few stray products in plastic in the bathroom – and like you, I’m now horrified that I used to buy that stuff and put it on my skin! I also didn’t realise how much I was accumulating in the name of “saving money” with those supermarket special offers. It is not money saving to stockpile two years worth of chemical-laden plastic-packaged nastiness – that will be on offer every other month for the next two years anyway! Giving up plastic helped me simplify, move away from chemicals and my bathroom is much less cluttered as a result.

      Good for you with the camping trip! That’s really great, you must have felt so much healthier eating your own food : ) Planning gets easier too, once you learn what works and what doesn’t.

      Thanks for visiting, and sharing your story. You’re doing so well, it’s really inspirational to hear! : )

  9. Hi Lindsay, I’ve just discovered your blog and am loving knowing there are other people with the same mindset. I’m from Perth too and notice you get your milk and dairy in glass bottles/jars. I was buying Sunnydale Dairy for a while but they’ve stopped coming to my farmer’s market and I find it hard to even find their products at the shops. What dairy company do you use? I’d love to know :)

    • Hello! Yes, Sunnydale don’t make it easy! They stopped coming to our local farmers market (Subiaco), but I think they still go to the Vic Park markets. They also have a factory shop in Nedlands that is open every day – if you have a car that might help.

      Jacks in Claremont has just stopped selling Sunnydale but they sell Bannister Downs in glass bottles. The bottles are smaller and have a plastic label, but I keep the bottles and return them to Sunnydale – they use that size for their milkshakes. Other places that still sell Sunnydale that I know of…IGA in Swanbourne, Manna in South Fremantle, Farmer Jacks in Subiaco. Does any of this help? Whereabouts are you? : )

      • Thanks for replying :) I’m in Tuart Hill but I’ve been past their shop in Nedlands when it’s supposed to be open but it’s been shut and I’ve found them in a few southern IGAs but at some the price is ridiculous, like upwards of $5-6 a litre when it sometimes doesn’t even look very fresh! It’s a bit frustrating when I thought I’d found a solution to plastic milk bottles… I might try the Vic Park Farmer’s Market this weekend, someone at Sunnydale has replied to a bunch of posts on their facebook page overnight saying they would be there, so that’s my next step in the hunt :) Might try out Bannister Downs too. Thanks for your help! :)

        • I had that problem too…we borrowed a friend’s car one weekend and must have been there three times (over 2 days) and it was shut. Maybe they were having staff problems? Try the Vic Park Farmers’ Market – good luck!

          • I made a special trip to the Vic Park Farmer’s Market yesterday and was able to get Sunnydale there. I asked if they had shut the factory shop and they said they’d just hired new staff so it will be open over the weekend again, with possibly longer hours (it had been shut over the weekend for the last two weeks I think). So fingers crossed it’ll be a bit easier to find them!

            • Glad you were able to find it! And thanks for that info too. Buying from them direct is soooo much cheaper than from IGA.

  10. Since I retired from teaching 8 years ago I started a little business selling wildflower seeds in local markets in the U.K.
    So I found myself in the perfect location three days a week to buy locally made food and products.
    I believe I could probably never set foot in a supermarket again if I put my mind to it: laziness means I do pop in two or three times a week ATM, though!
    I am working on breaking my habits both good and bad!

    • That’s great Ralph! Being in the markets and seeing all these small businesses and independent owners must be extra encouragement to support them over the supermarkets, too :) Ah, it’s all about making new and better habits – and sometimes it takes time, but you will get there!

  11. Hi Lindsay, regarding buying cans of coconut milk from the supermarket: if you find yourself near an Indian grocer, they may stock fairly large bags of coconut milk powder which you can mix to the desired strength. It’s delicious in cooking and lasts for a long time in the pantry. It saves on packaging too, although it does come in plastic bags, which you are probably trying to avoid!

  12. Great post Lindsay. I too have divorced the major supermarkets. I shop mostly in my garden and at the wonderful hills Wasteless Pantry – makes for a wonderfully tidy pantry at home! Also share and swap with like minded friends and the occasional trip to fresh food shop and local very small IGA. Not much in the way of farmers markets near us but we’re working on it.

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